We’ve all been there. We’ve been jolted awake at 4 a.m. by the sounds of “Battlefield 1” and “Game of Thrones.” We’ve opened the fridge to find that a month-old, uncovered, raw chicken breast has started growing hair. We’ve found the kitchen trash bin overflowing, and asked why it hasn’t been taken out only to be met with this week’s third recitation of, “Oh, I thought you were going to do that.”
We’ve all dealt with lousy roommates.
I’m all for the idea that enduring hardship results in growth, but sometimes you reach a point with an insufferable roommate when the only thing you really need to grow is a pair. Thankfully, it isn’t too difficult to do this without broaching the bounds of common decency or legality. Sure, you may come to be seen as “extra” or “uptight” or “the sociopath down the hall,” but sometimes you have to take that kind of hit to ensure domestic harmony.
Here are some basic steps to take when dealing with pesky roommates.
Set some boundaries.
Duct tape can work wonders. It’ll patch up that ever-growing hole in your backpack, make a missing passenger-side window look at least somewhat respectable and let’s just say Tom Hanks really could have used it in “Cast Away.”
It’ll also lay down the law for a roommate who doesn’t know the meaning of the words “personal space.” To fix this issue, take a roll of duct tape and make a dividing line down anything you and your roommate share. Does he share a bedroom with you and can’t keep his mess to himself? Set a border down the middle of the floor so he knows where his dirty laundry belongs. Does she take up 95 percent of the fridge with half-empty bottles of kombucha? Divide it in half so she realizes your rainbow of Hawaiian Punch flavors deserves some love, too. Tired of him enjoying “The Office” just as much as you do? Split your TV screen into two equal rectangles and make it clear which half is for your eyes only. This will give a whole new meaning to the phrase “divide and conquer.”
Be sure to communicate.
The only way to guarantee that a relationship remains healthy is through clear communication. While it’s common to think this rule only applies to romantic relationships — fellas, if that dress does make her butt look big, it’s best to just buy her a StairMaster on the spot — it’s just as applicable to friendships between roommates. If there is something your roommate does that drives you up the paper-thin shared wall, make sure you get your frustration across in a clear, emphatic manner.
Sometimes, this will mean getting creative. If she leaves the oven on after baking up some DiGiorno, see to it that the next time she opens the fridge, she finds the leftover slices mysteriously burned to a crisp. The next time his sopping-wet clothes sit untouched in the wash for 12 hours straight, give all of his white gym socks a lovely shade of lilac. And if you notice that she, once again, went downtown late at night without taking her keys, lock the front door with only the chain so she hopefully learns her lesson — bonus points if it’s below freezing outside and she’s stuck in a crop top, mini skirt and no jacket.
Acknowledge their efforts.
You might be reading this and thinking, why all this negativity? While it’s common sense that you’ll catch fewer flies with honey than with manure, I still think there’s a place for positive reinforcement within an unpleasant roommate dynamic. When your roommate is truly doing his or her best to make life with you as comfortable as possible, surely it’s important to make clear that you appreciate the effort. So take the most obvious approach to expressing your gratitude and set up a points-based reward system.
It’s simple, really: All you need to do is create a spreadsheet keeping track of the things your roommate does right and wrong, then treat him or her to something nice when you’ve awarded a certain number of points. Assign point values to different good deeds: I suggest awarding three points for emptying the trash without needing a reminder, five for cleaning out the sink after a dinner party and so on. Don’t forget to include a demerit system as well — adjusting the thermostat without asking clearly cancels out any points earned by scrubbing the shower.
Believe it or not, this tactic is most effective when you keep it a secret; sure, making your intentions known might yield more immediate results, but we’re talking about permanence here. If over time your roommate becomes accustomed to household chores being met with a Deet’s milkshake, soon enough you’ll have an obedient Pavlovian dog salivating at your feet.
Attaining true peace within a college dorm or apartment isn’t an easy feat, but with a little cunning and a lot of dedication, you, too, can become the Alpha Hokie of your quiet, clean domain.